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Bridge must be replaced, W.Va. highway officials say

October 15, 1998

James Rumsey BridgeBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The Md. 34 bridge spanning the Potomac River from Shepherdstown to Sharpsburg will likely be replaced within five years, according to officials from the West Virginia State Highway Administration.

The steel-trussed bridge, built in 1939, has rusted to the point where replacing it is the best option, said Gary Klavuhn, an engineer with the highway administration.

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Klavuhn and other officials inspected the bridge on May 19. Engineers recently posted signs lowering the weight limits and speed to reduce the "impact" on the bridge and increase its lifespan, Klavuhn said. The speed limit dropped from 50 mph to 20 mph and the weight limit is 25 percent lower.

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The weight now is posted at 30,000 pounds for two-axle trucks and 40,000 for three- or four-axle trucks. For semi-trucks with three or four axles, the limit is 46,000 pounds and for tractor-trailers with five or more axles, it's 60,000, he said.

Between 6,000 and 7,000 vehicles travel over the two-lane bridge each day, he said.

Owned jointly by Maryland and West Virginia, replacing the bridge will cost between $15 million and $20 million and will take several construction seasons, he said.

Officials from both states have been meeting to discuss tentative plans for the project, he said. Maryland and West Virginia must approve the project in order for it to move ahead, he said.

Even though the 1,000-foot-long bridge is owned equally by both states, West Virginia normally has been designated to take the lead on such matters, Klavuhn said.

"West Virginia is tasked with making inspections and routine maintenance and suggesting repair or replacement. We then collaborate and make decisions about what needs to be done," he said.

Typically a bridge of this type lasts about 50 years, he said. At that point, the structure is looked over and highway officials decide whether replacement is necessary or if repairs can be made.

In the case of Md. 34, he said the structure has deteriorated to such an extent that two options were available - make the repairs immediately or place restrictions on weight and speed, he said.

The administration also will have to determine if the bridge has any historical importance and evaluate its options, he said.

Making repairs was discounted because they would be "too expensive and not practical," he said.

No major repairs have been done on the bridge since it was built, he said.

Klavuhn said the states would like to expedite matters so the weight limits on the bridge will not need to be reduced further.

Shepherdstown and Sharpsburg town officials agree that the bridge's condition must be addressed.

"It needs to be done. It's in poor shape. I think the sooner they move forward, the better," said Sharpsburg Mayor George Kesler.

"It's unfortunate that the bridge was allowed to lapse into the bad condition it's in. Something has to be done," said Shepherdstown Mayor Vincent Parmesano. "It will be inconvenient for the community while the work is in progress but we'll have to make the best of it," he said.

Which state will conduct the work has not been determined, Klavuhn said.

A temporary bridge will be built parallel to the current one since there are no feasible detour options, Klavuhn said.

This phase will likely cost between $3 million and $6 million, he said. It will be the responsibility of both states to fund the project, he said.

Klavuhn said the bridge will continue to have two lanes but probably will be widened from about 26 feet to 40 feet.

"We are meeting with Maryland later this month to discuss the replacement and the hurdles we're facing. It's our general hope to see a temporary bridge in place or under construction within the next two to three years," Klavuhn said.

Maryland State Highway Administration engineer Earl Freedman would not commit to whether building a new bridge is the most likely option.

Freedman said steps toward repairing the bridge were taken but it was determined that the deterioration was too severe.

He agreed that under most circumstances involving bridges under dual ownership, the lead state takes charge of repairs and making recommendations.

Freedman said officials from both states will be meeting next week to discuss Md. 34.

"We'll sit down and discuss what will be the best solution," he said.

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